Any sense of familiarity quickly fades, however, as you start to look around: seeing a stack of furniture being hoisted from a barge up to a top-floor window, or someone fishing knee-deep in the lagoon a hundred metres from dry land, you understand that life here is not like life anywhere else. And the more closely you look, the more fascinating Venice becomes.
But where should you base yourself? Insatiable demand makes Venice’s hotels the most expensive in western Europe, and high season here is longer than anywhere else in Italy. But whatever kind of trip you’re planning, there’s somewhere for everyone. Here is our expert’s guide on where to stay in Venice.
Best for luxury: San Marco
The sestiere of San Marco has been the nucleus of Venice for more than a millennium. Many of Venice’s visitors make a beeline for this spot, spend a few hours here, then head for home without staying for even one night. But if you’re looking for luxury, stay around here to make the most of the city’s plushest hotels, the most elegant cafés and the swankiest shops.
Five star views: Europa e Regina. Commanding stunning views from the mouth of the Canal Grande; its terraces are among the most spectacular viewpoints in the city.
Super-luxe: Gritti Palace. Once the home of the doge, this hotel now offers every hi-tech facility you’d expect of a super-luxe hotel, but has lost none of its famous old-regime opulence.
Best for architecture and art: Dorsoduro
Some of the finest minor domestic architecture in Venice is concentrated here and the area’s superb collection of galleries makes it the perfect base for art lovers. The Gallerie dell’Accademia is the highlight, but there’s also Scuola Grande dei Carmini and the Guggenheim Collection.
Impeccable cool: DD 724. In a city awash with nostalgia, the cool high-grade modernist style of this locanda, right by the Guggenheim, comes as a welcome change.
Atmospheric rooms: Ca’ Maria Adele. Five of the twelve rooms in this very upmarket locanda are so-called “theme rooms”, with every item designed to enhance a particular atmosphere.
Best for daily Venetian life: San Polo and Santa Croce
The focal points of daily life in San Polo and Santa Croce are the sociable open space of Campo San Polo and the Rialto area, once the commercial heart of the Republic and still the home of a market that’s famous far beyond the city’s boundaries. The bustle of the stalls and the unspoilt bars are a good antidote to cultural overload.
Traditional meets modern: Ca’ Arco Antico. Some of the best budget accommodation in the city, this locanda has big rooms and a great location.
Gothic getaway: Ca’ San Giorgio. Exposed timber beams and walls of raw brick advertise the age of the Gothic palazzo that’s occupied by this fine little locanda.
Best for backwaters: Cannaregio
The pleasures of this sestiere are generally more a matter of atmosphere than of specific sights, but you shouldn’t leave Venice without seeing the Ghetto, the first area in the world to bear that name and one of Venice’s most evocative quarters.
A monastic retreat: Abbazia. One of Cannaregio’s most restful hotels, the light-filled Abbazia occupies a former Carmelite monastery.
A restored palace: Palazzo Abadessa. All 15 bedrooms (some of them huge) are nicely furnished with genuine antiques, and there’s a lovely secluded garden.
Best for culture: Central Castello
Castello’s central building is the immense Gothic church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo (or Zanipolo), the pantheon of Venice’s doges. The museums lie in the southern zone – the Querini-Stampalia picture collection, the museum at San Giorgio dei Greci, and the Museo Diocesano’s sacred art collection.
Family business: Doni. Run by the Doni family since the 1940s, this is a very plain yet cosy one-star near San Zaccaria.
Indulgent escape: Danieli. This magnificent Gothic palazzo affords just about the most sybaritic hotel experience in the centro storico.
Best for city views: Eastern Castello
Sights are thinly spread in the eastern section of the Castello sestiere, and a huge bite is taken out of the area by the dockyards of the Arsenale, yet the slab of the city immediately to the west contains places that shouldn’t be ignored – the Renaissance San Francesco della Vigna and the Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni, for example. East of the Arsenale, the entire waterfront offers panoramas of the city.
Mid-budget gem: La Residenza. This fourteenth-century palazzo occupies much of one side of a tranquil square just off the main waterfront.
Good-value luxury: Gabrielli. The family-run Gabrielli has occupied its fourteenth-century palazzo since the 1850s, and is one of the best-value four-stars in town.
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This feature contains affiliate links; you can find out more about why we’ve partnered with booking.com here. All recommendations are editorially independent and taken from The Rough Guide to Venice & the Veneto. Featured image by Dreamstime/Iurii Davydov.